The History of the Biennales

Not only has the art world calendar filled up with a number of new art fairs, the art world has also seen an increase in the number of Biennales. As such, it is now impossible to explore the art world without hearing the word Biennale at least once. Italian for ‘every other year’, the term “Biennale” is used to refer to large-scale exhibitions showcasing international contemporary art. The Biennales began in 1895 with La Biennale di Venezia in Venice. At the time it was a way to showcase artworks and techniques of contemporary painters that would have otherwise been left out of museums and other such institutions. Since then there have been Biennales all over the world, from Vancouver to Dakar to Shanghai. The Venice Biennale still runs every second year and is the largest Biennale in the world and is one of the most prestigious events in the art world, showcasing over 150 artists from 88 different countries and drawing in over 475,000 attendees.

How They Work

Biennales are curated global art fairs. They attract a large variety of demographics, from artists and dealers to tourists and city officials. The Biennales showcase the most cutting edge and influential contemporary art, to such an extent that the Venice Biennale is often referred to as the “Olympics of the Art Market”. Biennales take artworks out of the usual gallery setting and showcase them in spaces such as a large arena. Biennales usually place a strong emphasis on public and installation art, transporting contemporary art from the studio and integrating it into City landscapes. 

Why They Are Important

Biennales are unlike any other art museum or gallery as they not only make art easily accessible for the public, but they also aid cities culturally and financially. Biennales allow for artists to have a more visible platform to experiment with their art on an international level. As such, artists at these exhibitions often create artworks that do not fit the usual museum format and touch upon the social issues of the exhibition city.

The original Venice Biennale was created in order to revitalize the city of Venice and increase tourism. From the first Biennale in 1895 to now, these large-scale exhibitions have become big businesses and definite money-makers, increasing international cultural tourism, re-gentrification, commerce and cultural capital. The success of these events has been undeniable and they continue to grow and expand each year. Be sure to check out the next Biennale in your city or on your next trip. It will be sure to provide some of the more important and avant-garde art of the moment!